"Where are we?"
"Oh," she said, eyes wide as she looked out the window. "New York," she whispered. She'd always wanted to come here. All of her friends did. "Why are we stopping here?"
"It's late. We'll stay here and then I'll bring you tomorrow."
"You're rather relentless."
She smiled, blinking at the brightness when he opened his door causing the dome light to come on. "I didn't know that was a bad thing."
"At times it's endearing."
She laughed softly. "So?"
"Don't get excited. It's rather basic as I'm not here very often, but this is one of the cities I frequent."
"I'm sure it's fine. Hotels get old after a while."
"Well, can I stay here with you?"
"But my dad wanted you to protect me."
"So, can't I just say I feel safest with you?"
"We'll see," he said softly. The look in his eyes told her he didn't think it was going to happen the way she wanted. He evidently hadn't learned something important about her. She didn't take being told no very well.
"You're just going to turn me over to strangers?"
"Once I've gotten you to safety I have other things to do, people to check on."
"It's not the same. I don't understand why I have to stay with whoever you're bringing me to."
"Things will start happening rather quickly from here on out, Claire, the wheels are already in motion."
"Yes," he said simply.
"And he's out to hurt these other people?"
She swallowed hard. "I don't like it, but if it means keeping other people safe. All right."
He got out of the car then. She noticed the smile on his face, though. He knew she'd say that! Was she that predictable? She got out, too, and took in the area. It wasn't a bad neighborhood.
"So, where are we?"
"Are all these houses apartments?"
"Not all, some are single-family units, but most have been converted to apartments."
He led her up two flights of stairs.
"How do you rate a parking space?"
"I have been here longest and I pay a fee. The other tenant can use it when I'm not here."
"How does he know when you'll be back?"
"I send him an email."
"Of course you do," she said with a laugh. "Does he know you talk?"
"No," he said simply.
"There are only two of you?"
"The second floor unit goes through a lot of people for some reason." He unlocked the door at the top of the stairs and pushed it open, letting her pass through first. "I never know who's there. I'm often surprised I don't get the police called on me I'm here so seldom they don't know me."
"But you need a key to get in the front door."
"Yes, but people aren't always logical like that."
"Oh." It was small, the attic converted to an apartment she guessed. A kitchen with room for a table and chairs, a living room that overlooked the yard next door, one bedroom, and the bathroom. The tub was one of those old-fashioned ones with the lion paws for legs. It had a shower, though, which was great because she hated washing her hair in a bathtub.
"You aren't much of a knick knack person."
"It's nice, though." The furniture was simple yet nice. The place was neat, clean. She'd expected that, though, by the way he'd kept the house up in Mexico. And if he didn't stay here all the time, he'd leave it clean.
"I'm glad you approve. The one bedroom is the reason I hesitate to have you stay here."
"We can tell them I sleep on the couch. No one would have to know."
"Why is it suddenly wrong?"
"It's not wrong." He was trying to convince himself of that. "I'll let you get ready for bed, Claire."
"I'm going to go to the store on the corner and get a few things."
He walked to the kitchen while she stayed in the living room to look around.
"Here are keys. I do not know what the situation is nor do I know exactly how warm your reception will be. You can come and go as you please. Even if I'm not here. But, Claire, you cannot stay here, you must stay where I bring you."
"I don’t understand. If you're giving me a key…"
"If you are having a tough time adjusting and just need a break, but that's all it's for. I'm leaving the city knowing you're in capable hands. If you start to stay here that will change and then I'd have to come back."
"You don't want to come back?"
He rested his hand against her cheek, bringing her to him for a hug. "I do not wish to leave, but I must. You have a job to do as do I, I cannot walk away from my responsibilities in this anymore than you can."
"Will you be back at all?"
"You are welcome here."
She took the keys then and put them in her front pocket. "Thank you."
"I'll be back."
"All right," she said, opening her suitcase to get her bathroom stuff. She heard the door open and shut and then muffled sounds in the hallway as he went back downstairs. She had the place to herself, as tempting as it was to snoop she didn't. He'd given her keys so that meant he trusted her. She wasn't going to violate that trust.
Once she finished her shower, she debated about watching TV or just going to bed. She wasn't really tired, but she liked the idea of being in bed when he got back. And that's what she did.
She must have drifted off, funny how sitting in a car for hours and hours could be exhausting. The next thing she knew he was sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Hi," she whispered, reaching for his hand.
"I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's all right, I was waiting for you." She smiled. "Trying to anyway."
"Are you hungry?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," she said. "Come to bed?"
"Let me put a few things away."
"M'kay," she murmured.
She must have dozed off again because next thing she knew he was in bed. He'd stopped wearing so many clothes, which was fine with her. She'd stopped wearing anything but panties under her nightshirt. It fell to her knees so it was kind of senseless anyway.
She snuggled against him, finding his chest and resting her hand against it.
"Good night, Claire."
"Good night," she murmured.
She woke the next morning, having slept so much better than the previous few nights. She wasn't sure if it had to do with being in a bed that was his instead of a hotel room. All she knew was that she felt great.
She got ready for the day, finding him in the kitchen when she'd finished.
"Do I need to bring my things?"
"I already did, other than what you had set out for this morning."
"Are you ready?"
"I don't know. I'm nervous because I have no idea where you're taking me."
"I'm taking you to people like us who will help keep the world safe."
She imagined that was supposed to make her feel good, but it really didn't. She trusted him. Her father. That was it.
She had no idea where he was taking her, but a place like this had never entered her mind. It was huge. If her friends back in Odessa could see her now. Jackie would have had something to say. And Zach would just laugh. He was bringing her here? This was where she was going to stay? She'd imagined a safe house, something in-line with his apartment.
He'd driven around the block and parked down the street from the house.
"This is where I let you out."
"Wait, you didn't tell me that you weren't coming with me," she said.
"I cannot go in with you, Claire. Few know of my existence and it's best that way."
"You'll be fine, Claire," he turned to face her, kissing her. He seemed urgent and she responded just the same. "I would not entrust you to their care if I did not believe that."
"All right," she whispered. "How will I know when you're in town again?"
"I will let you know."
She smiled, meeting his eyes. He was still so mysterious, basically a complete unknown to her. So, how had she gotten this deeply attached to him? But one thing she did know, if he claimed she'd be safe here she would be.
"I am sorry I cannot see this out with you, but I have no doubt you will do what needs done."
Tears formed in her eyes. This was really good bye. Until when? She hugged him then, not wanting to let him go. This morning when they'd woken up he'd stayed in bed, holding her. She knew now why, it was what she was doing now. She didn't want to give this up, the closeness they'd forged over the past few months.
"When this is over…"
"I do not know what the future holds, Claire. I do believe, however, that my mother did."
"And I'm the woman she spoke of?"
"I'll hold you to that," she said softly.
"Please do." He grazed her forehead with a kiss. "We haven't talked about that day we left Mexico."
"I didn't know there was anything to say."
"I feel I should. I knew I would be leaving you here. I could not take advantage of you when you did not know."
"I would have been fine with that."
"Look at me," he said, gripping her chin so she had to do just that. "I don't know what future my mother saw for me, but somehow you play a role in it. I could not do that to you. As active as my fantasies have been, you deserve a commitment."
"I'm not asking for that."
"You at least deserve knowing I'm not going anywhere, and I cannot promise that at this point."
"I just need you to know, it was not lack of desire on my part."
"And when this is over, if you still feel this way…"
He didn't look like he believed her, or perhaps he just doubted her because of her age.
"We will pursue it then. And I will keep my promise to you."
She blushed then and he chuckled, kissing her again.
"You must go now, Claire. I'm sorry, but sitting here as we are is conspicuous."
"You'll email me? Let me know you're all right?"
"I'm more concerned about you."
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I'm sorry, I promised I wouldn't do this." She reached for the door handle. "Be careful," she said.
"No, I have to go now or I'll make a complete fool of myself. I meant what I said, I love you."
She'd made him happy saying so, she could tell. She opened the door and got out quickly, barely hearing him repeating the words before she shut the door. She went to the trunk, which he'd opened and got her things.
She watched from across the street before taking the last few steps to the house as he drove away, but he didn't leave. He stopped at the end of the street. She could feel his eyes on her, watching to be sure that she went where she was supposed to go.
She took a deep breath, turned around to regard the house in front of her. Who lived here? Would they accept her?
"Go find out," she whispered, walking to the house and ringing the bell. Her heart skipped a beat and she smiled wide in recognition when she saw who opened the door.
"Claire? What are you doing here?"
"I'm not sure exactly," she admitted.
A woman stepped into view. "She's here for us to protect, Peter."
"Protect? But I already saved her…"
"Yes, you did, and she's needed now for more."
"Who are you?" Claire asked the woman.
"You don't know?"
"No," she whispered.
"I'm your grandmother, Claire. Peter's mother."
She blinked, glancing at Peter. "Peter?" She shook her head. No, Peter was in no way her biological father. He wasn't old enough, he wasn't that much older than her. He would have been like ten!
"No," the woman said. "Not Peter. My other son. I'm Angela," she said, stepping forward then and offering Claire her hand. Claire took it automatically, feeling a little shell-shocked. Her thoughts drifted to the Haitian. Had he known whom he was delivering to? Did he know who she was to them?
"Of course, we already know who you are. Welcome to my home."
"I'm staying here with you?"
"Yes, of course, as a friend of the family, dear. Some secrets are made to stay that way."
"How is this possible?" Peter asked. He hadn't said anything for a while. He looked kind of like Claire felt. Surprised.
"Surely I don't need to explain that to you, Peter. It was a long time ago, Nathan was very young."
"And I didn't know?"
"Of course not, Nathan didn't even know."
"You lied to him?"
"I did what was best for not just my son, but my granddaughter as well. Look at her. She's a survivor, can't you tell."
"Mom," Peter said, sounding a little horrified.
Claire looked out to the street, wondering if she was too late to catch the Haitian and go with him. He'd wanted her here, though. He given her a key as a means to escape. She realized now it had been a test. If she left, went back to his apartment she would be questioning him. Disappointing him. He'd said she was safe here, she had to believe that. She did find the key in her pocket and trace the outline of it. If it got real bad, he'd said she could go there for a break.
"It's okay, Peter," she said with a wry smile. "It's just temporary anyway. Right? Until this is over with."
"Peter, show her to her room, won't you. You know the way since it used to be your room."
Claire noticed she hadn't answered Claire's question. Maybe she hadn't realized it was a sincere question. Or maybe she did it deliberately. Angela Petrelli didn't strike Claire as someone who cared whether questions went unanswered. She followed Peter upstairs, taking in the house. It was beautiful.
"Thanks," she said when Peter opened the door.
"I didn't know. I had no idea or I wouldn't have left you there like that."
"It's okay, Peter."
He looked at her as she turned around in the room.
"What?" she asked.
"Can I hug you? I've never had a niece before."
"Sure. I haven't had an uncle before either."
"I'm so glad I saved you." He drew away. "Not that I wasn't glad before today."
"I know. I'm glad, too."
"This is so cool. Kind of weird. I don't know how Mom's going to explain you to Heidi and the boys."
"Nate's wife, they have two sons, Simon and Monty."
"Oh," she said. "Are they?"
"I don't know, I don't think so. Not yet anyway."
She didn't know what to say to that. She hadn't been special until recently. That she knew of. She'd have to ask The Haitian the next time she saw him.
"And your brother?" She was avoiding saying father.
"Yes, he is."
"So, both my parents…"
"Your mother was?"
They both heard his mother call for him. He rolled his eyes. "She doesn't like to be kept waiting."
"It's okay, I'll unpack and come down when I'm settled."
Claire collapsed on the bed once Peter had left the room. No wonder the Haitian hadn't thought she'd be allowed to stay with him. He was bringing her to her biological family! She was curious, she wouldn’t deny that. The curiosity made her feel like she was betraying her parents a little, though. A month or two ago, this would have been the answer to her prayer. Now it was just another bit of weirdness.
"I'm here," she said, staring at the ceiling. "Now what do I do?"
There was no response. She hadn't expected one really. She just didn't get what she was supposed to do. What part did she play? Why did he bring her to New York? And what would the Petrelli's do about her? Nathan was running for some office, her showing up now couldn't be good for him.
"Safe," she whispered. The Haitian had said she'd be safe here. She had to remember that. If there was one person in all of this craziness she trusted as much as her dad it was him. He hadn't done anything to make her rethink that. She just wished he had prepared her for this.
She sat up, realizing she couldn't stay here all day. She wouldn't find out what she was supposed to be doing from here either. She set about unpacking her few meager belongings, prolonging the inevitable of joining her grandmother by birth downstairs.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com